I have been a member of Farrell’s in Iowa City since January 2013. Like many others in the program, it changed my life. I had never been an athlete and despised working out, but I lost close to 40 pounds and learned a new mindset. I found that I was strong, beautiful, and yes...I could do anything I put my mind to. In 2014, my husband, Mike, jumped on the bandwagon as well and later that year we both became instructors. We were definitely full on Farrell’s converts and wholeheartedly believe in the program.
In March of 2016, our world was turned upside down. While showering one day, I found a small, hard lump in my right breast. My initial reaction was that it couldn’t be cancer—I have no family history, I’m young (43), I have no risk factors and I am a non-smoker. Plus, I was an FXB instructor and coach! I ate what I am supposed to in order to keep my body fueled and I work out vigorously. I read up on the subject and decided the lump was probably hormone related, so I waited it out through my female cycle. Well, unfortunately the lump did not disappear.
The next two weeks were an absolute nightmare. I had my mammogram, an ultrasound and a biopsy. My doctor called to tell me that I had a less common form of breast cancer, called triple negative. Triple negative breast cancer is extremely aggressive, is hard to treat, and it kills at a high rate. The tumor was only about a centimeter, but had already spread to at least one lymph node. I was extremely lucky to have found that lump, but because it was triple negative, the size didn’t matter much.
Emotionally, I was a mess. My husband came home from work early that day to be with me. Telling our kids, who were 11 and 8, was heartbreaking. I vowed to fight and fight hard. So, the day I was diagnosed with breast cancer I did the only thing I could to prove to myself how strong I was—I went to a kickboxing class. We told a handful of close friends and as expected, they were with us 100%. My Farrell’s family came up with #TracyTough for social media. My mom helped raise funds for my treatment with a #TracyTough t-shirt, complete with boxing gloves and a reminder to “Wake Up. Kick Butt. Repeat.”
I started chemotherapy a little over a week after my diagnosis. I knew I would lose my hair, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. The sickness from the chemo was unlike anything I had ever experienced. But, here is where it gets interesting—during my first infusion, the doctor and nurses all said it would be a good 2-3 days before I felt sick. Nope! I was ill three HOURS later! The sickness was extreme and lasted about four days. By day five, I was fine until my next infusion a week later. I truly think that going into chemotherapy in excellent physical condition somehow helped me metabolize the toxins faster. The illness hit hard- there were days I couldn’t get out of bed. After those four sick days, I felt pretty good. I even made it to the gym here and there!
I endured 16 weeks of chemotherapy. As soon as I was done, I started my regular routine back at FXB. It was a struggle because I lost muscle and gained weight from the steroids I had to take, plus I still had fatigue. Once I was strong enough to get through without stopping, I instructed! It was a big win for me, and knowing that I was inspiring others, pushed me harder.
On August 31, I had a mastectomy on my right breast. During my surgery, they also removed five lymph nodes. The next morning I found out that my lymph nodes were clear of cancer! I waited a long, agonizing ten days to hear the results of the testing on my breast tissue. But the call was worth the wait—no cancer!
A complete response to chemotherapy is not very common, but I had one. I truly credit Farrell’s with helping me beat this horrible disease. It all started with the positive mindset I gained. Our motto in Iowa City is “Yes You Can.” That motto doesn’t just apply to kickboxing and bands workouts—it applies to life. I had some dark days, but for the most part, I focused on the positive. I found my inner strength and pushed through the pain. As I write this, I am only a few weeks out from surgery and I have returned to FXB. I have to modify quite a bit until I’m fully healed from surgery, but I’m there, moving my feet and feeding off of the energy that the gym provides. My hair is growing back and I’m working to be even better than I was before the nightmare began.
Barron Swenning, the business manager in Iowa City, was one of my biggest cheerleaders. He would send me encouraging texts and one day I showed up and I didn’t feel well. I told him that I shouldn’t have come and he reminded me that I needed to be there. My fellow instructors and fit members were amazing—they brought meals, they were a part of fundraising efforts, gave my husband some much needed support, and they never once acted like they were sick of me talking about cancer. Several women told me that they were overdue for mammograms and actually got one after my diagnosis. Having the huge network of support that I had from this group inspired me to keep going even more. It is because of them that I kept up the “YES I CAN” mantra and pushed through, ultimately getting to the point where there is no evidence of cancer in my body. I can’t be declared fully cancer-free for about five more years and I will be extra vigilant for the rest of my life. But partly because of Farrell’s, I can proudly say that today I’m healthy.
Everyone knows that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and frankly, everyone is already pretty aware. But because breast cancer is so common (1 in 8 women) and so many beat it, sometimes we forget that there still isn’t a cure and that people still die from it. Unfortunately, people who are considered low-risk do still get cancers of all types. But overall the folks who eat better and exercise get it a little less. And if you do get it, you will increase your chances of beating it by having a strong body and mind.
Whether you are in the best shape of your life or you are just starting the program, never give up. If a cancer patient can get herself to the gym, so can you. I’m sure I can’t legally say FXB cures cancer, but I know it helps!
Tracy is a Breast Cancer Survivor and FIT member at our Iowa City, IA Farrell’s eXtreme Bodyshaping location.